The Question

Hope you are doing well?

The question hangs in the air.  No, really.  It just hangs there, unanswered.

I guess it seems silly, doesn’t it?

Fine, thanks.  And you?

That is what folks say, isn’t it?

A couple of days ago, I wrote a note expressing my thanks for yet another beautiful poem shared by my young friend on the other side of the world.  The next morning when I awoke, I found her reply—first her thanks, and then—The Question.

Hope you are doing well?

We are friends because of our mutual love of language—words that communicate truth—words that hold open the front door in invitation to come in and sit awhile—words that move the soul just a little closer to our God.

She is a consummate wordsmith—the dance steps in her delicate turn-of-a-phrase achieved without a stumble—her adamant declaration of truth set down before her reader without spilling a drop from the cup.

I am not such a craftsman, my sentences cobbled together with too much punctuation, and my ideas propped up with a leveling shim here and an improvised story there.  Still, the words are hammered together neatly enough—at times.

So, why have I still not answered her question, two days later?  I have answered the same question aloud probably a hundred times since, while talking with folks right in front of me.  I just haven’t been able to write the words in reply to her query.

I think it’s that I suddenly remembered words have meaning.  Idle words spoken may seem harmless, but they will count in the grand sum of our communication. (Matthew 12:36,37)

When we lie—however harmless and commonplace the lie—we devalue the truth that comes from our mouth at other times.

When we lie, we devalue the truth that also comes from the same mouth. Click To Tweet

I am not doing well.

Oh, I’m well enough physically, my doctor having given his stamp of approval on my fitness results last week.  But really, I’m not doing well.

sadboyIn the depths of my soul, there’s a tiny child crying for his mother; there’s a young boy gasping at the unfairness of seeing the work of his hands dismantled before his eyes.  The stress and confusion of walking through a world torn by dissension, and bitterness, and death are almost too much on any given day.

So, we learn to lie instead of telling the truth.

Because, to tell the truth is to live with an overwhelming flood of uncomfortable silence, followed by visits (virtual or otherwise) from the hand-patters, and then by the verse-quoters.  These may lead to the get-a-grippers, and possibly, even a scold or two.

If you find yourself offended by the above paragraph, that is not my intention.  It might be wise, though, if you see yourself in those words, to seek other ways of showing your love for those who are hurting.

But, I still want to talk about truth.  

No.  I want to begin to tell the truth.  All of it.

I’m not doing well.  But, there is more to it than what I feel right now.  You see, along with that most famous of suffering humans, Job, I have one other thing to say.  One more:

I know that my Redeemer lives!

I know it!

Instead of telling you that everything is all right, I declare that everything will one day be all right.  And, I will see it.  You can, too.

We will see Him. 

Sadness? Done!

Disappointment?  Gone!

Tears?  None!

Troubles will pass.  They always do.  Until then, the truth is, He gives grace for the journey.

And, answers for the questions.





I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.

But I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.
(from I Know Whom I Have Believed ~ Daniel Whittle ~ American lyricist/evangelist ~ 1840-1901



But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and he will stand upon the earth at last.
And after my body has decayed,
    yet in my body I will see God!
(Job 19:25-26 ~ NLT)





© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved. 

Bite Sized Chunks


I remember, long years ago, riding along with my father as he visited the grocery stores where we normally purchased our provisions for each week.  At each stop, he was disappointed.  The butchers in the meat markets could not provide what he needed.

“Beef skirts?  Why would you want those?  They’re way too tough for cooking.  Sausage—that’s what those are turned into.  It’s all they’re good for.”

He didn’t give up.  We finally found what we needed in the carniceria, the butcher shop in the hispanic barrio just to the south of where we lived.  When he described what he wanted, they knew immediately what he was seeking.

Fajitas!  You want fajitas!”

It was a word we had never heard.  Even though the word had been used for forty years among the cattle workers who ate the undesirable cuts of meat around their campfires in South Texas, it had never been spoken in a restaurant anywhere.

Dad bought the meat, wrapped in brown butcher paper, and we went home victorious—successful hunters home from the chase.

I have no idea how much work it was to prepare the meat for eating.  The barbecue-84674_640butchers in the grocery stores weren’t lying.  It was tough, so tough it was nearly inedible.  But Dad knew what would happen if he prepared the meat correctly.  Hours, he worked to tenderize, season, and barbecue the meat.  Hours.

He was willing to put in the time and to sacrifice his hard work for the result he was certain of.  Absolutely certain.

He was not disappointed.

Everyone who ate Dad’s beef skirts raved.  Raved.  It was the best tasting beef anyone had ever eaten.  Sure, it was chewy.  But, it was fantastic!

It would be nearly twenty years before the trendy restaurants began to offer fajitas.  Around our scuffed and battered dining room table, we ate like rich folks.  Fine dining?  Who cared about fine dining?  We had beef skirts!  Fajitas!

I’m not trying to tell you my father invented fajitas. He did not.  He just heard about them from some of the old-timers in South Texas and determined that his family wouldn’t miss out on the culinary experience.

His perseverance and hard work paid off.  We had no idea we were eating food that would one day grace the menus of many eateries across the country.  It was simple, poor man’s food, but we knew its cost.  And, we liked what we were tasting.

I’m realizing that life almost never comes in bite-sized chunks—cut fastidiously and arranged neatly on our plates by a doting parent (or simpering chef)—but it usually arrives in great slabs of meat with the gristle and tough membranes  laced throughout.  We have to deal with all of it.

Life almost never comes in bite-sized chunks. Click To Tweet

And something tells me the most important part of what we do with our lives is not in how we deal with the tender, delicious stuff, but in how we dispatch the tough, unpleasant parts.

Character is built, not in the great hall of feasting, but in the sculleries and around the cook fires.

Character is built, not in a feasting hall, but in the sculleries and around the cook fires. Click To Tweet

Or, if you like, joy and wonder are to be found at the table as knife and fork are plied, but it is in the kitchen that the hard work takes place which makes the wonder possible.  If no one does the labor there, there will never be a finished meal to rave about.

King David spoke of a feast prepared for us by our Creator, our Shepherd.  In front of those who hate us, the meal is served and we are designated as favored sons and daughters. (Psalm 23:5)

Favored?  Well, of course we are!  He feeds us.  By His own hand.  And, pours oil on our heads.

And, we shake those anointed heads and look down on those who hate us and who abuse us.  It’s our right, is it not?

Odd, isn’t it?  The Shepherd who feeds us, tells us to feed the hungry.  He tells us to clothe the naked.  He tells us to comfort the oppressed.  (Matthew 25:31-46)

Early one morning, on the shore next to a fire where He cooked fish, he told Peter what his task would be.

“Feed my sheep.”

The work in His kitchen is not always comfortable.  It isn’t always easy.  The food is often thrown back in our faces.

But, when they do eat?  When they will taste what He offers?

As good as those fajitas were, they are nothing when compared to the feast prepared for those who will accept the invitation!


Favored and blessed?  Only as we share the bounty of the Creator who owns the cattle on thousands of hills.  (Psalm 50:10)

All those cattle?

Can’t you just taste the fajitas now?



O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.
(Psalm 34:8 ~ KJV)





© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

He Rides Upon the Storm

A dark and stormy night, it was.  

I had intended to ask Snoopy for help with my opening sentence, but he is nowhere to be found, probably hiding from the frightening flashes and booms himself.  It was indeed, a dark and stormy night.

Was.  A shockingly short, but powerfully reassuring, word.  

Was.  Past tense.  Over.  Done with.

Right now, there is not a creature to be seen anywhere.  All of them took shelter from the noise and commotion.  But, come morning, the skies will be alive with birds and flying insects.  The air will fairly ring with the celebration of re-creation.

The dogs in my backyard, cowering now between the floor joists of the storage building (their sturdy house seems not to be substantial enough for their reassurance during a thunderstorm), will cover their owner with muddy paw and nose prints as they leap and cavort at his appearing.

For now, the rain falls, a steady cascade of water from the heavens.  

A gentle rumble of thunder bullies its way across the sky above, bringing to mind the assault of powers from on high against these earth-bound edifices only moments past.

I sit in the quiet and give thanks for the calm, life-giving draught that enriches the earth below.  Mankind has done it from time immemorial.  Water gives life.  When it is withheld, death will follow.  How would we not be grateful?

But, as I sit, listening thankfully to the gentle and rhythmic thump of rain on the metal roof above me, I am uneasy.  I have a sense of restlessness, as if I’ve forgotten something important.

Now, what was it?

Perhaps, I want to forget.

The thunder grumbles across the wide expanse above again and I remember.  I might want to forget, but the question will not be silenced that easily.

If God is in the rain, that peaceful, life-giving source of fresh hope, where is He when the storms blow in?

storm-1506469_640As does all of nature, we cower from the raging lightning and wind-whipped raindrops.  The explosions of thunder do no real harm, save to terrify and remind us of the potential for death and destruction that awaits right outside our hiding place.

Why don’t we give thanks for the storms?

Why don't we give thanks for the storms? Click To Tweet

I don’t love storms.  Once, I thought I did.  I was younger then.  

Now, I know their potential for destruction.  I realize the repairs that will need to be effected after they have had their way.  Insurance adjusters will be called; shingles will be tacked down; broken branches will be hauled away.

I can’t help it.  I’m humming with the Fab Four as they declare whimsically, “I’m fixing the hole where the rain gets in, and stops my mind from wandering.”

When we are made aware of an issue, failure to address it only guarantees we’ll be able to accomplish nothing else until it is repaired.   Water dripping into a bucket is a distraction that will not be ignored.

The realization is profound.  Perhaps, you already see it.

The result of the storm is that we work to make things better.  Stronger.  More able to withstand the next storm.  Regardless of the hardship in between, the storm leaves us better off.

Storms motivate us to become better than we were. 

Gentle rains merely make us more comfortable.

Thankful, but comfortable with what we have grown accustomed to.

Somehow, better seems to be preferable to comfortable.

Better is preferable to comfortable. Click To Tweet

The brother of our Savior, assured us that the result of these storms will not only be better.  He claims the result will, in the end, be perfection. (James 1:2-3)

Perfection.  We’re not there yet.  Well, I’m not, anyway.

The storms keep pounding.  

I’m trying to be grateful for them, too.  In everything, be thankful. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

God is in the storm.

Perfection is around the corner.  Or, perhaps the one after that.

Oh.  I’ll keep fixing the holes, too.  

You know—my mind still needs to wander.





You lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds.
You make the clouds your chariot;
    you ride upon the wings of the wind.
The winds are your messengers;
    flames of fire are your servants.
(Psalm 104:3,4 ~ NLT)

At your rebuke the waters fled,
    at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
they flowed over the mountains,
    they went down into the valleys,
    to the place you assigned for them.
(Psalm 104:7,8 ~ NIV)



There shall be showers of blessing,
Precious reviving again;
Over the hills and the valleys,
Sound of abundance of rain.

Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need:
Mercy-drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.
(Showers of Blessing ~ Daniel W Whittle ~ American evangelist ~ 1840-1901)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved. 

Good News. Bad News.

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

As I sat not writing at my keyboard a couple of nights ago, I received the message.  The young man at the other end had just received good news.  He had to tell someone.

It didn’t matter that it was after midnight.  A light had blazed into his darkness and he needed to share the wonder.

I read the words and, even though I couldn’t actually see him, saw the smile that had spread across his face.

I messaged him back.  I‘m smiling with you.

I’m smiling as I think about his news, even now.

Good news shared is a blessing doubled.

Good news shared is a blessing doubled. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Click To Tweet

I always want to rejoice with folks who are rejoicing.  Except when I don’t.

Yeah.  You know what I mean, don’t you?

I was in the middle of a good pout when the young man’s message arrived the other night.  I’ve been in the middle of the pout for awhile now.  Call it what you want—depressed, sad, unhappy, disappointed—it’s still a pout.

Things aren’t going the way I want.  Perhaps more to the point, life isn’t working out the way I’d planned.  It seems the road map I was following was a little flawed.

woman-1006100_640Sometimes, when your soul feels heavy and is burdened down, you simply want to be left alone with your misery.  And yet, when that beam of light shines into your darkness, the reaction is automatic and instantaneous.

I stood in the light with the joyful young man and I smiled.

Joy spills over.

It does. But sometimes the beam of light is short-lived and the joy fades into the gloom of disappointment once more.

I sat with another young man this afternoon and unburdened my soul.  I thought he needed to know—and oddly enough, he seemed to want to know—what I was feeling.  Tears were in my eyes when I looked up again.  Looking into his eyes, I saw tears in them, too.

Weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

Do you understand the power in those words?

I do.  Now.

I looked at his tears and was reminded that it hasn’t been many months since his tears were shed over the tiny body of a still-born baby.  He (and his sweet wife) are grieving still and will for years to come.  We spoke of that also and the tears came again.

Sorrow shared is a burden lightened.

Sorrow shared is a burden lightened. Weep with those who weep. Click To Tweet

The day will come when we will celebrate the end to all sorrows and disappointments.  No more separation.  No more loss.  No more death.

The day will come.  It’s not here yet.

Today, we walk this world of mixed joys and regrets, victories and defeats.  Our celebrations are tempered with foreboding of dark times yet to come.

I wonder.

The Teacher instructed His followers to walk in love for each other and promised that, as a consequence, they would give witness of His great love to a watching world. (John 13:34,35)

Surely He intended that to be done in the center of the world’s marketplace and not only in their cloistered meeting places.

He never suggested it would be the rule in mortuaries, but not on the street corners.

If it is to be witnessed, it must be done in public places. 

We rejoice.  We grieve.

Fellowship along both paths touches our spirits with His love.

Tonight, I’m smiling.

Through tears.




Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being.
(Albert Schweitzer ~ French-German theologian ~ 1875-1965)


For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 ~ NLT)





© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved. 

Waiting for Dawn

The insistent tone of my smart-phone’s alarm clock pierced the fog of sleep this morning.  My eyes fluttered open reluctantly.

Still dark.

I would have lain there and slept longer, but the alarm was only increasing in volume.  It does that, you know.  It gets louder.  

I stood and, stumbling to the window sill where the offensive device awaited, touched the screen.  As it finally relented, I breathed a sleepy sigh of relief.

Over the tops of the blinds, I gazed out to the eastern horizon.  It was supposed to be daylight!  Where was the sun?

I waited—and watched.  There was a hint of light near the ground, but it did the world no good.

Still dark.  

For all my waiting, the world was still in shadow.

I glanced down at the clock.  Wow!  I had to get moving!

Dressing quickly and going through my morning ritual, I forgot about the darkness outside.  Well, I didn’t forget; I just ignored it.

Funny.  I knew what was going to happen.  Still, when I stepped out the back door to face the eastern sky again, it caught me by surprise.

sky-1280456_640It was anything but dark!  The brilliance of the sunrise had me standing there blinking in its light.

Sunrise comes by itself.  While I do the thing needed, its light explodes over the horizon in hues of fiery red and brilliant yellow and eye-popping orange.

While I do the thing needed.

In the dark, we do what is required of us.

In the dark, we do what is required of us. Click To Tweet

I will admit that it feels as if I’ve been laboring in the dark for some time now.  To my dismay, it seems very much as if night has taken hold and is determined to maintain its grip on my world without ever letting go.

Nothing I do has made the night around me less dark.  

I have prayed.  

I have sung at the top of my lungs.  

I have sat and cried.  

I have raged.

Still dark.

Finally, it occurs to me.  There is work to be done.  The journey still lies ahead.  Yes, even in the dark.

I remember that the Creator—the One who makes the sun to rise on the righteous and unrighteous—is still up to the task.  (Matthew 5:45)

I will do the thing needed.  

While He keeps His promises, I will keep mine.

While He keeps His promises, I will keep mine. Click To Tweet

Daylight will come.  It will.  With or without us, it will come.

We know it in our hearts.  

We should be up and doing while we wait.

Shouldn’t we?




Morning has broken, like the first morning.
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird.
Praise for the singing; Praise for the morning;-
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.
(from Morning has Broken ~ Eleanor Farjeon ~ English poet ~ 1881-1965)


But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.
(Malachi 4:2 ~ NASB)





© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved. 

The Weaver

My young friend has seen more of life in his twenty-six years than many of us do in all of our allotted time on this spinning sphere.  

I’m confident there is nothing I have to teach him.  Empty words are not what he needs today.  I don’t intend to offer any.

We talked about the troubles in this world that waylay us on our journey.  I had to work hard to avoid the trite words we who follow Christ keep ready to offer for such occasions.

Count it all joy when you encounter trials…  (James 1:2)

My grace is sufficient for you… (2 Corinthians 12:9)

In the world you will have tribulations… (John 16:33)

These words—and many more—are perfectly true.  Really.  They are.  But, that doesn’t mean we need to say them every time we speak with folks who are experiencing trouble.  

Well-meant words can become explosive devices when dropped from the great height of wisdom into the valley of loss and sadness.  Where ointment and salve are needed, we offer astringents and solvents.

As my young friend and I spoke, it seemed to me he still needed soft words that soothed the hurt.  

I’m better at cauterizing than soothing.

Today though, I’m feeling the exhaustion that comes from personal loss and sadness myself.  A kindred spirit, you might say.  I speak briefly of the person I think I would be, if not for the sad times that have driven me to cower under the shadow of His wings.

Arrogant and self-assured, is who I am when my own strength is sufficient to carry me through.

Our loving Father uses those times of loss to draw us closer, but also to shape us into the followers He needs us to be.

The unhappy events that come throughout life are folded in with the joyous ones—eventually.  All of them we have lived are a part of who we are—the sadness blending with jubilation—the horror mixing into the delight. 

The warp and weft of life.

loom-579967_640I heard the phrase the other day, and a picture formed in my mind instantly.  The patient weaver stood, row after row of drab colored thread laid out and running straight ahead on the loom.  The warp is in front of him already.

Beside him lay spindles of brightly colored thread, along with more of the same drab twisted material.  From those spindles, he will choose what goes into the weft, the cross-weave.  His choice will make a dramatic difference.

The exact color and pattern of the finished material are up to the weaver.  If he picks up the brightly dyed spindle, the material will come alive with a visible change.  Although the beauty might be marred by weakened thread, the dye having caused a reaction with the fibers, the resulting cloth will be more pleasing to the eye.  

More of the same neutral color will make a utilitarian piece of material, strong and useful.  Possibly, even a complementary neutral hue will lend interest, but not detract from the strength.

The choice is the weaver’s.

Side by side—and sometimes cross-ways—the different threads of life change the character of the material.  The good lies alongside the bad, the joyous crisscrossing with the sorrowful.  As the pattern is revealed, its beauty is also.

The Weaver plans to finish what He started. (Philippians 1:6)

How would He make a garment which was not of good quality?  He knows the plan He has for each of us and it will be for our ultimate good.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

Even if we don’t like the color He is weaving with right now—even if the fibers are rough and coarse—His strong and able hands assure the beauty and strength of the completed fabric.

I will admit it.  The fibers are not to my liking right now.

Today, I’m not even sure I like the pattern I see emerging all that much.

The Weaver isn’t finished yet.

Sometimes, we simply trust and wait.

The warp and weft are still coming together.

The pattern is still emerging from His loom.

I’ll wait.

For Him, I’ll wait.


The pattern is still emerging from His loom. I'll wait. For Him, I'll wait. Click To Tweet



Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.
(Fyodor Dostoyevsky ~ Russian novelist ~ 1821-1881)


For the moth will eat them up like a garment;
    the worm will devour them like wool.
But my righteousness will last forever,
    my salvation through all generations.
(Isaiah 51:8 ~ NIV)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.